1. Hello Robert! First of all, it’s a huge pleasure to be able to interview you. The name Cirith Ungol comes from The Lord of the Rings. In addition to Tolkien himself in songs like Shelob’s Lair, which other authors or works inspire your compositions?
Rob: The pleasure is all mine, I am a big fan of Queens of Steel and have read all your reviews and articles on «Cirith Ungol»! Not everyone understands what we are doing, but I can tell by your writings that you do!!
Many in the band have been influenced by a variety of authors and artists over the years. I personally am a big fan of Tolkien, Howard, Moorcock and others, but my favorite author is H.P. Lovecraft. We recently played at The Necronomicon an H.P. Lovecraft convention in Providence Rhode Island his hometown and it was a big deal for me! We went on a walking tour of the town where he not only lived, but he wrote many stories based on actual locations in the city. I stood in front of both The Shunned House and the house of Charles Dexter Ward!!!
So many people ask about our relationship to the LOTR’s and our album covers it is important to take a step back in time to look at where he originated. Greg and I were in an advanced English class in 7th grade, which would have made us about 16 years old. We were assigned to read the “Lord of the Rings”, which at that time was not the cultural mammoth it is today. It was a big influence on us, and led to our discovery of many other «Sword and Sorcery» literature and art. Many people mistakenly feel that because we took our name from the books, that we were overly influence by the “Lord of the Rings”, or the Elric series we featured on our album covers. The truth is these incredible works of art influenced us, but were never intended to be something that defined us as a band, especially our music!
2. We can find the origins of the group in the early seventies, when metal was taking its first steps with Black Sabbath. What idea did you have in mind? How were those first years until the release of your great debut, Frost & Fire?
Rob: We formed in 1971 after Greg Lindstrom, Jerry Fogle and I left the band Titanic, to form «Cirith Ungol». Our goal was to play the heaviest metal known to man. We holed up in an upstairs lair at my parents home, and for years we wrote and recorded music, honing our songwriting skills and style, into what would become easily recognized today. Many of those early demos can be heard on the double album released by Metal Blade Records in 2001 «Servants of Chaos», or on the infamous “Orange Album” released recently on Iron Grip Records. It was a magical era, and we never gave up hope in pursuing our vison of what we considered true metal!
We were pretty young back then but the music that was swirling around us was all the heavy music from the late 60s and early 70s, Jimi Hendrix, Cream, Iron Butterfly, Blue Cheer, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, etc. It was an amazing time to be growing up in, and the original members were all very big fans of all this heavy rock. The term heavy metal hadn’t quite been coined yet, although the band Steppenwolf used the phrase in their iconic song Born to be Wild! We just wanted to start a band to play this heavy music, that was so exciting!
3. Tim Baker’s voice is incomparable and to this day remains in great shape. I’m curious about how he became Cirith Ungol’s singer after Neil Beattie.
Rob: Neil was an amazing performer and singer and we had been friends since we were young, but for some reason we decided that we needed something heavier which led us to part ways. We played for a while as an instrumental group even playing some of the biggest clubs in Hollywood at that time with that format, but we were looking for a distinctive singer. Tim had been a friend for a long time also and even helped out the band at our shows running the sound etc. One day we decided to have him sing on one of the demos, and we loved his voice. I guess the rest is history. I’m still shocked that even today people find his voice so extreme, especially with all the different genres of metal that are popped up over the years. He is definitely the voice of «Cirith Ungol» and there’s no one else like him! One of the main questions always asked of the band is how has he kept this voice so intact over the years, and the answer is we don’t know!
Rob: After our first album «Frost & Fire» was released in 1981 e had been together for over 10 years, Greg was just finishing up college and wanted to move to the Los Angeles area to start a career. It was a smart move on his part, because he became the most successful member in the band! Falcon is not playing actively but they have 2 albums out and who knows maybe they will knock out another!
5. California is home to many thrash and glam bands. Did you feel that in some way you didn’t fit with your contemporaries? We would like you to recommend current bands from California -metal or not- that deserve recognition.
Rob: Definitely back in the day, especially around the time we broke up in 1991 we did not feel that we fit in at all with what was going on in the metal scene, especially in the Los Angeles area. It horrified us. I cannot really speak on what is going on here now, as we mostly play outside this area. Where we live is beautiful but it’s not a Mecca for heavy metal.
6. Your masterpiece is surely the legendary King of the Dead, which marks a clear musical progress compared to your first release. Was your goal to sound heavier and incorporate progressive elements? The great One Foot in Hell meanwhile is somehow darker but as powerful.
Rob: Those were some good times. The band was never commercially successful, but we were cranking out some pretty amazing tunes, which I think can stand up to any of the music of that era, in terms of style, originality and heaviness. «Frost & Fire» was our attempt to get major record label and radio support. We had put our most accessible songs on that album and when we received little recognition, we decided to pull out all the stops and create the heaviest album we could resulting in «King of the Dead». Several of the songs on that disc such as; «Finger of Scorn», “Atom Smasher” & «Cirith Ungol» were already in our repertoire, so we needed to create some new songs to compliment them and that is when «Master of the Pit» & «King of the Dead» and “Black Machine” were created! Many think that was our best album, and I will agree it was pretty awesome, but I think our 5th album “Forever Black” and “Dark Parade” are just as significant! My memories of that time was being at the band practicing several nights a week in our very cool secret lair band room. After each practice we would sit around for hours answering fan mail from around the world, and work on the songs for what would be our next album, «One Foot in Hell». We tried to play as much live as we could, but to be honest it was hard back then playing heavy metal shows locally. There were not that many clubs or venues that allowed the radical music or loud volume that we played! Each album has become increasingly darker over time, a reflection of the world around us.
7. The death of the much-missed Jerry Fogle was surely a hard blow for you. How do you remember those years between One Foot in Hell and Paradise Lost, when Jim Barraza joined the line-up? Did you ever consider having Fogle back?
Rob: We never wanted Jerry to leave the band. Jimmy was playing in another local band and he was really good, and we wanted to have two guitars so we can play more complex arrangements. Somehow Jerry felt like we were trying to replace him which we were not, so he left the band. We tried constantly to try to get him back in the band, but he refused and ended up drinking himself to death. We had no choice to move on with Jimmy as our lone guitarist and we wrote and released «Paradise Lost» in 1991.
8. We’re interested to know why did you decide to split up after the release of Paradise Lost? What was the turning point for your long-awaited revival, with Jarvis Leatherby as a key figurehead for your reunion?
I am not sure why we did not continue on Metal Blade Records after they put out «One Foot in Hell», and looking back that was a serious mistake on the bands part. We ended up signing to the company Restless Records, who had sprung from the ashes on Enigma, after they had been sold to Capitol Records. We could never figure out why, but Flint decided to leave the band to play in another local band. This whole era was a time of turmoil for the group. We found two local musicians who joined the band, just long enough to record the album, but left before it was even released. Another local musician Vernon Green joined to play bass after «Paradise Lost» was released. The recording process was difficult, and soon after the album was released, we were dropped by Restless Records, causing even more distress. Soon Vern left the band along with Jimmy, leaving Tim and I the last standing members of «Cirith Ungol».
The music scene here in Southern California and metal scene in general was moving off into territory we thought was the anathema of what we thought was, and had come to love as true metal. We had always played by our own rules, struggling against fads and current trends, swimming constantly against the tide. At some point we saw no clear way forward for the band, and we reluctantly decided to lay the being called “Ungol” to rest… Not unlike the elder god Cthulhu, sinking beneath the waves, brooding and waiting for the stars to align again.
Fast forward to 2015 when Jarvis Leatherby our current bass player and manager ushered in the events that led to the band’s reunion. I had a friend Carl Valdez, who was the original drummer in a famous local punk band “Ill Repute”. Carl was friends with Jarvis, and told me that he wanted to meet, to discuss our old band. When we finally met, and he had unbelievable stories of his touring with «Night Demon» and meeting many fans still interested in «Cirith Ungol», and he suggested resurrecting the band. Jarvis was putting on the Heavy Metal «Frost & Fire Festival I» in our hometown of Ventura, California, and had booked bands from all over the world to come and play. He asked if we would do a signing session, and all the original members (except Jerry Fogle who has tragically passed away in 1998) agreed. The festival was a huge success, and at the signing session many showed up with albums and other memorabilia to be signed and meet the band. It seemed as if a new generation had discovered our music, that we had worked so hard on, for so many years.
Jarvis was the main protagonist for the band’s reunion, and it is the first time in our career that we have had any kind of professional management. Anyone that knows him knows that he’s the hardest working man in heavy metal! Even with his multiple roles he has supported the bands creativity, while also being our manager, and kick ass bass player.
9. Forever Black, the album that you released almost three decades after Paradise Lost, seems like a true declaration of intent. We would like you to explain us about its genesis, during the global covid pandemic, as well as how you did you face your triumphant return to touring.
Rob: For our fifth studio album we wanted to definitely make a statement that even though we had gone away for a while, that we were back and firmly in command of dishing out some truely heavy metal! We wanted the album to be dark and yet there are still some of our original «Sword and Sorcery» influences. It actually came about before the global pandemic, being released on almost the exact day that the worldwide shut down happened. Although it was a horrific time for many in the world it, was an especially hard time for bands, including ours. We are not as young as we once were, and it took three years out of our come back career at a time where we were the most pumped up and ready to play!
10. In Half Past Human, your 2021 EP, you brought back several old recordings to give them a better production. Do you still have material to re-record that we can expect to see the light in the future?
Rob: Half Past Human is an epic EP which we released to leave a placemark between full length studio albums. So many had asked us to dig up some of our earlier material, and rerecord it. At first, we were against that idea, hoping to put out another full length album, but as the pandemic wore on it seemed the perfect time to do something like this. We decided to breathe new life into a few songs with a similar “beast” like theme, and really pump them up and make them extra heavy! Many have misunderstood what this EP is, these are not new songs, but some of our earliest material written from 1975 to 1977! Yes, we have so much material that we could re-record, but the plan was to focus on new material, but who knows what the future holds!
11. I would like you to tell us why was Witch’s Game released as a single but wasn’t included in Forever Black. On the other hand, Brutish Manchild was originally recorded for the Decibel Flexi Series but would afterwards be added in Half Past Human.
Rob: «Witch’s Game» came about when Tim found mention of movie «The Planet of Doom» on the Internet. Jarvis contacted the producers as we had a song, «Doomed Planet», on our «One Foot in Hell» album. “The Planet of Doom” movie is a continuous tale broken up into 15 chapters, each interpreted by a different artist and musical band. It was supposed to be an animated feature length film in which the hero, Halvar the brave, seeks vengeance aboard a witch-born chopper, journeying across a psychedelic landscape on a quest to defeat the deadly beast Mördvél for the slaying of his beloved bride. The art director and producer David Paul Seymour, and the animator and director Tim Granda, were long time fans of the band, and wanted to use «Doomed Planet», during the closing credits of the movie. Fortunately for us one of the other bands in the movie had to drop out, so we were offered the opportunity to write an original composition for the movie. This song, «Witch’s Game», was composed specifically for a chapter in the movie where the hero of the movie “Halvar” enters a cave and encounters a witch who reads his tarot cards. During that reading he journeys into the cards, with some pretty trippy experiences! We were all very excited to work on this project, as we had never been involved in a motion picture soundtrack before, and we were eagerly awaiting the movie’s release, some time in 2021, but the pandemic hit and although delayed the movie is still in progress, there is no scheduled release date but it’s progression can be followed on Instagram.
12. What can you tell us about your long-awaited Dark Parade which will be released soon? How would you say it differs from Forever Black, both in songwriting and sound? I must congratulate you since it’s as amazing as expected.
Tim: The name Dark Parade conjures up the latest searing entry in Cirith Ungol’s ongoing chronicle of man’s never ending fade into Doom. Nightmare tales of pain, suffering and corruption – a Dark Parade into the abyss…
Rob: I feel the album is a continuation of where we left off with “Forever Black”.
This is only our sixth studio album in over 52 years, so when «Cirith Ungol» releases an album it’s quite a rare event, and a celebration among the faithful who have Joined the Legion! Our last album Dark Parade was well received, and it was our intention to create a worthy sequel that would stand head and shoulders above our previous efforts. I think with this latest offering we have come closer to that goal «A Churning Maelstrom of Metal Chaos Descending!»
13. As a conclusion, next year I will be able to see you for the third time at the Greek Up the Hammers festival, along with other epic bands like Visigoth, Eternal Champion or Sumerlands. Surely you must feel at home since your performance there in 2017 was captured on the live album I’m Alive.
Rob: We are very excited about playing «Up the Hammers» next year. The “Greek” fans are incredible and we had such a good time playing there before! I hope that someday we can play in Spain someday, we were booked for a festival in Madrid which got canceled, which was a big disappointment to us.
Rob: I am assuming this is Tania asking these questions, as you have reviewed all our other projects at Queens of Steel! You have an amazing webzine and we are honored that you have covered so much of our recent music! I am a big fan of women in metal, so it is especially rewarding and quite an honor to be featured in you’re very cool webzine!